Last July, I did an out-and-back hike in the Sky Lakes Wilderness from the Nannie Creek trailhead (USFS TH) to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the time, it occurred to me that I could use the PCT to loop around Luther Mountain and down past a few of the lakes in the Sky Lakes Basin that we hadn’t visited before. This wilderness, despite its more than 200 pools of water, good camping, and easy hiking, has a deservedly fearsome reputation for hoardes of ravenous mosquitos in July and August. But on a crisp, sunny, clear day in early October, with all of these perditious pests gone to whatever reward awaits them, there is simply no better place to hike in Southern Oregon. Unfortunately, its also the ideal time for Fall planting and gardening, so my attempts to lure the LovedOne from her botanical tasks failed and I was (once again) left to face the wilderness alone (double sigh).
Recent rains had killed the dust on the gravel access road to the trailhead and I was soon heading up the Nannie Creek trail (USFS #3707) toward Puck Lakes. In July, I’d run into big logs that had to be stepped or crawled over but now some welcome maintenance had been done on one of the biggest and most frustrating tangles.
The trail crests at about 6,400 feet and up here the recent rains had fallen as snow – some 3 to 6 inches in some places (Crater Lake National Park had gotten over 9 inches).
One of the main destinations for folks using this trail are the Puck Lakes, about 2.7 miles in from the trailhead.
Up to the Puck Lakes, the trail had seen some maintenance and was in pretty good condition but after that it was the same as it had been in July, with the same fallen trees over it up to its junction with the Snow Lakes trail (USFS #3739). But there are a couple of spots on this trail where it crosses open shale/boulder fields where I got some nice views out to the south. Mount McLoughlin, Pelican Butte, and Mount Shasta had all been fulsome recipients of the recent early season snow.
It was good to see that the signs marking the Nannie Creek – Snow Lakes trail junction had been partially restored (at least they were back up on a tree). The Snow Lakes trail lived up to its name as I encountered up to a foot of new snow on it. One thing fresh snow does is show you the cougar and bear tracks on the trail that you would otherwise have been blithely unaware of. Once aware, I spent the next mile or so – up until the trail broke out of the forest – tormented by the sensation that SOMETHING was following me – clearly some primordial memory from when humans were a desireable prey species.
At around 6,800 feet, the trail leaves the forest and starts angling up a shale field,
with some nice views of the cluster of little lakes known collectively as the Snow Lakes (which didn’t stop someone from naming another single lake “Snow Lakes”).
Soon I’d reached the PCT. Here it runs along the ridge crest through the damage done by the 2014 Camp Creek Complex fire which had burned up from the west.
It was a short ways south on the PCT to the saddle at 6,800 feet just southwest of Luther Mountain, with snow already filling-in the PCT where it traverses a north-facing slope below Luther. From the saddle, I had an expansive view to the north of the peaks along the divide between the Sky Lakes and Seven Lakes Basins.
The story is that Luther Mountain was named to counteract Devils Peak. But whether Luther could also deal with Lucifer plus Roman sky (Jupiter) and love (Venus) gods and goddesses is not known. This saddle is where the Divide trail (USFS #3717) meets the PCT. There’s some signage here but the PCT does make an abrupt 90 degree turn and it’s obvious from a small note on the signs that some thru-hikers have gotten on to the Divide trail by mistake. The Divide trail heads down from the saddle and, early on, affords some great views of McLoughlin’s north face.
The Divide trail descends into the Sky Lakes Basin across rocky slopes,
and along the edge of an escarpment from which I got a wide view of the various lakes down in the Basin and out to Klamath Lake beyond.
After further traversing and descending, the Divide trail passes Lake No-See-Um,
and then much larger Margurette Lake,
before reaching a somewhat confusing signed junction with the Sky Lakes trail (USFS #3762) at the northeast end of Margurette Lake. After a moment of existential befuddlement, I got on the Sky Lakes trail in the correct direction and followed it north past two lakes not previously visited – the Snow Lakes at the base of Luther’s northeastern ridge,
and Martin Lake. The Snow Lakes trail (which I came in on) runs along the ridge in view behind both of these lakes.
The Sky Lakes trail climbs gradually back up a junction with the Nannie Creek and Snow Lakes trails. From there, I retraced my steps back up the Nannie Creek trail,
through the shale fields,
with one last view of Pelican Butte and the peaks to the south.
Then it was up past the Puck Lakes, over the shoulder of Lather Mountain, and back down to the trailhead. The only real deadfall of any significance along this whole loop was between the Puck Lakes and the Nannie/Snow/Sky Lakes trail junction. Otherwise all the trails were in good to great condition which allowed me to hike this 16.7 mile (2,200 foot elevation gain) loop with my corpus mostly intact and without having to unlimber my headlamp! I saw no one the whole day until I got back to the trailhead to find two folks (and dog) heading in for a backpack. They couldn’t have picked a better time to have this amazingly intricate and beautiful wilderness all to themselves!